Article: “The Common Word”: Reflections on Muslim-Christian Dialogue – By Khalil Andani
December 5, 2011 Leave a Comment
“Say: O People of the Book! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).”
(Holy Qur’an 3:64)
A unique feature of the modern age is the encounter taking place between people who belong to different religious traditions. Unfortunately, some have branded the particular encounter between Muslims and non-Muslims as a “clash of civilizations” when it is actually a “clash of ignorance”. An important aspect of such an encounter is the dialogue between Christians and Muslims – adherents of the two largest faiths in the world – and in this article I present a reflection on how such a dialogue can be approached from the eyes of a Muslim.
The Qur’an instructs Muslims to invite people to the recognition of God but also prescribes a specific manner in which this should be performed:
“Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and debate with them in the most beautiful manner…”
(Holy Qur’an 16:125)
This verse is often taken to refer to what Muslims today call da’wah – summoning people to the faith of Islam – and has taken many forms including preaching, debates, arguments, etc. I ask us to direct our attention especially to the words “debate with them in the most beautiful manner” (jadilhum bi allatee hiya ahsanu) – with emphasis on the term ahsan (the superlative quality of “most beautiful”. In the modern age, I would like to propose a method of dialogue – which is in fact a da`wah based on knowledge as opposed to adversarial debate or polemic – that seeks to fulfill the spirit of the Qur’anic emphasis on beautiful discourse. The objective of such a “da’wah of knowledge” (da’wah ilmiyyah) is to attain “recognition” of one another – something which the Qur’an mentions as the very purpose of human diversity:
“O mankind! We created you from male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (lita‘arafoo).”
(Holy Qur’an 49:13)
This “recognition” (ma‘rifah) can only occur if all participants in the dialogue (as opposed to an adversarial debate) are permitted to clearly present the principles of their faith tradition whereby all parties are able to truly understand each others’ positions. This is the only antidote to the “clash of ignorance” which has sometimes paralyzed such engagements. In light of this objective, I would like to propose some steps a Muslim can take in participating in such a dialogue involving Christians:
1. Familiarity with the theology of Christianity: This does not mean having a superficial understanding, nor does it mean knowing the Bible for the purposes of only refuting Christianity. But it means having a thorough knowledge of Christian doctrines and creeds including the Trinity, Christology, Crucifixion, etc. This means understanding what Christian’s believe and why they believe it. However, understanding is not the same as believing. Just because one understands Christianity very deeply, it does not mean that one subscribes to its truth claims. Many people often confuse the two and for this reason never bother in trying to understand the theological beliefs of other faiths.
2. Familiarity with the theology of Islam (and its various schools of theology and philosophy including Ash‘arite kalam, philosophy, Shi‘ite and Sufi theosophy): Islamic thought and theology has historically not been monolithic but diverse. Knowledge of this theological diversity allows one to locate the symbolic parallels of Christian theology within Islamic theology. A symbolic parallel is the realization that “X” is to Christians what “Y” is to Muslims.
3. Introduce the symbolic parallels in the Muslim-Christian dialogue. This first requires empathizing with the beliefs of the Christian interlocutor. The purpose here is not to debate, attack or confront Christian beliefs, but to actually affirm our understanding of them. Once this is accomplished, then one can introduce the symbolic parallels that are found in Islam. This allows the Christian to appreciate Islamic beliefs for what they are by intellectually proceeding along a line of correspondence – an “intellectual bridge” so to speak – which effectively begins at Christian doctrinal symbolism doctrine and leads to Islamic doctrinal symbolism.
All this may seem abstract at this point, so it helps to demonstrate this method through a practical example. This example will evoke one the most contentious issues which separate Christianity and Islam – the Christian doctrine of the Divine Sonship of Christ – which Muslims reject. However, the application of the above method to this specific Christian belief can actually allow a Christian to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Qur’an being the Word of God for Muslims and likewise, clear up Muslim misconceptions of Christian theology.
Understanding what Jesus as the Son of God means to Christians requires setting aside our biases and pre-conceived notions. It is true that the Qur’an criticizes the notion of God begetting a son and thus Muslims find this belief blasphemous. However, it should be realized that when Christians take Christ as the Son of God – it is not in a literal, biological sense. The Sonship of Christ, for Christians, is not biological or physical but rather intellectual and metaphysical. Christian doctrine actually rejects any notion of biological descent between Jesus and God. Contrary to popular belief, Christians do not revere Jesus as the Son of God merely on account of his virgin birth without a human father. Jesus is called the Son of God by Christians because he is understood to be the human incarnation of a pre-existent entity known as the Logos. It is this pre-existent Logos which is actually called the “Son of God”. The Gospel of John and the early Christian Church fathers often referred to the “Son of God” as the Logos – which literally means “Word”:
“In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.”
(Gospel of John 1:1-5, Holy Bible, New International Version)
The Logos or Word of God, which Christians today call the “Son of God”, is the instrument by which God creates the Cosmos, communicates to humanity, and is that which became incarnate in the historical Jesus. For Christians, the Word of God is called “Son of God” because this Word is “from God” and simultaneously, the Word “is God” because it is of the same essence or nature as God Himself. This latter point was, of course, heavily debated in the first centuries after Christ and the Christian Councils took the position that the Son or Word of God was uncreated, eternal and consubstantial with God Himself (which became known as the “Father”). For Christians, the terms “Son” and “begotten” symbolically serve to express the intellectual and metaphysical relationship between God and His Word. Jesus Christ for Christians is the incarnation of the uncreated, eternal Word of God (Son of God) and thus, Christ is the primary “Revelation” of God for Christians.
Having appreciated the subtleties of Christian theology, the next step is to locate the symbolic parallels, if any, which exist within Islamic theology. Obviously, there is no concept of “Son of God” in the Islamic tradition due to which most interfaith dialogues break down at this point. But an acquaintance with Christian theology – as summarized above – reveals that the term “Son of God” is merely the Christian designation for the “Word of God” or Logos. This latter term, however, is very much present in Islamic theology. Like Christians, Muslims also subscribe to the belief in God’s uncreated and eternal Word (kalimah) or Speech (kalaam). The Qur’an mentions God’s creative Word in many verses such as the following:
They say: “God hath begotten a son.” Glory be to Him – nay to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: everything renders worship to Him. To Him is the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: When he decreeth a matter, He said to it: ‘”Be” and it is.
(Holy Qur’an 2:116-117)
What is interesting about the above verse is that while the Qur’an rejects the literal notion of God giving birth to a son, it does mention the reality of God’s Word, “Be”, by which He creates the heavens and the earth. In Islam, the Holy Qur’an is the revealed Word of God – just as in Christianity, Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God. In this sense, there is a clear symbolic parallel between Christ in Christianity and the Qur’an in Islam. In other words, Christ is to Christians what the Qur’an is to Muslims. Interestingly, in the formative period of Islam, there was also a debate about whether the Qur’an was created or uncreated which in many ways paralleled the earlier Christian debates concerning the divinity of the Son or Word of God. The majority Muslim position, which is present in Ash‘arite theology, is that the Qur’an in its substance is the uncreated and eternal Word of God. However, for Muslims, the Word of God is not God; it is merely the Word of God – an eternal attribute of God. But in Christianity, the Word of God is God. This remains one of the major points which separate the Islamic and Christian theology.
All this still serves to establish a parallelism between the Qur’an for Muslims and Christ for Christians and this parallelism, I submit, establishes a way by which adherents of each faith can begin to dialogue and empathize with one another. This has also been pointed out by a many scholars of religion, two of which are quoted below:
“Muslims and Christians have been alienated partly by the fact that both have misunderstood each other’s faith by trying to fit it into their own patterns. The most usual error is to suppose (on both sides) that the roles of Jesus Christ inChristianity and of Muhammad in Islam are comparable… If one is drawing parallels in terms of the structure of the two religions, what corresponds in the Christian scheme to the Qur’an is not the Bible but the person of Christ – it is Christ who is for Christians the revelation of (from) God.”
(Wilferd Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History, New American Library, 1959, 17-1
“But in order to understand what the Quran means to Muslims and why the Prophet is believed to be unlettered according to Islamic belief, it is more significant to consider this comparison from another point of view. The Word of God in Islam is the Quran; in Christianity it is Christ.”
(Seyyed Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966, 43)
Muslims can better understand Christianity and particularly the role of Christ for Christians by reflecting upon the status of the Qur’an in Islam. Similarly, Christians can better understand the Muslim reverence of the Qur’an by reflecting on the nature of Christ. This gives Muslim and the Christian a starting point within their own religious tradition by which to begin truly understanding and empathizing with the other. For example, the Arabic language of the Qur’an including its sounds, reading, verses, and structure are the symbolic parallel of the “body and blood” of Christ for Christians.
The parallels also extend to the role of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) and the Virgin Mary (peace be upon her). In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad is the bearer of the Word of God as the Qur’an and the pure vessel through which the Qur’an was revealed to the world. Similarly, in Christianity, it is the Virgin Mary who is the bearer of the Word of God as Christ and the pure vessel by which Christ was born into the world. The illiteracy of the Prophet parallels the virginity of Mary. Just as the illiteracy of the Prophet demonstrates the miraculous nature of the Qur’an, the virginity of Mary proves the miraculous nature of Christ.
Certain correlations can also be drawn with regards to ritual practices. When a Muslim recalls that Christ is the Word of God for Christians, and that therefore Christ’s body and blood are the expressions of the Divine Word, then the Christian ritual of the Eucharist whereby the Christian partakes in the blood and body of Christ becomes intelligible. The Eucharistic rite, when its symbolism is decoded, is essentially a ritual whereby a Christian “takes in” or “internalizes” the Word of God as represented in Christ. In Islam, there is a similar ritual whereby a Muslim also “internalizes” the Divine Word: this is the very act of Qur’anic recitation – performed even during the salat – whereby the supplicant vocalizes and thus “internalizes” the Word of God as manifest in the Qur’an(Note 1). In the deepest sense, the “Common Word” between Christianity and Islam is the uncreated and eternal “Word of God” around which both faiths are oriented and while this realization does not resolve all the theological differences between the two faiths, it can serve as the basis for a fruitful dialogue.
Far from serving as a dividing line, Muslim and Christian theological beliefs can actually serve as a bridge towards greater and deeper understanding. Rather than debating about the divinity of Christ or the authenticity of the Qur’an, Muslims and Christians would better spend their time understanding and empathizing with each other’s deepest convictions. This is the objective of the “da’wah of knowledge” whereby the principles of each faith tradition can be communicated in “the most beautiful” of ways such that we all may “know one another”.
Such an engagement, of course, does not resolve theological differences nor does it seek to do so. However, the authentic knowledge (ma’rifah) of “self” as well as the “other”, can lead both sides to a deep and profound sense of mutual respect which theological disagreement cannot overcome. In closing, it is best to refer to an example from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his progeny).
One of the earliest Muslim chroniclers, Ibn Ishaq, records that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) received a Christian delegation from Najran in 631 AD. The purpose of this meeting was to engage in theological debate over the nature of Christ. Although the Prophet and the Christians never reached a theological agreement, the Prophet invited and allowed the Christian delegation to pray and accomplish their liturgical rites in his own masjid. This perhaps shows that disagreement on the plane of doctrine (aqeedah) can co-exist with a deeper and more profound sense of respect and empathy on the level of worship (ibadah).
Note 1 – The analogy between the Christian Eucharist and the Islamic salat is also noted by Mahmoud Ayoub in “The Word of God in Islam”, The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Volume 31, No. 1-2, 1986, 69-78.
Texas Pax Christi 2012 State Conference hosts an Interfaith Forum
Where in the World Is Compassion?
Creating Ongoing Relationships for the Common Good
Join us for interfaith discussions, panel discussions, and prominent speakers at a Conference on Compassion. Listen to voices from diverse faiths and create relationships for the common good. These events are shared in the context of the Charter for Compassion charterforcompassion.org/site/ which all are invited to endorse and to participate in building Cities of Compassion.
‘Don’t restrict compassion to own group:’ Karen Armstrong
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Even though she criticizes religious leaders for turning their backs on compassion, famed author Karen Armstrong stood up for Buddha, Jesus, Confucius and other luminaries during her extended visit to Metro Vancouver.
The author of many best-selling books, including The History of God, responded to complaints religion has been a source of violence by telling a Simon Fraser University audience this week to not forget secular movements have also been destructive.
“Let me put in a word for religion,” Armstrong said. Both Buddha and Jesus, she explained, responded to their chaotic times by bearing “witness to a different way of living” – to an ethos that counters selfishness.
Armstrong, arguably the planet’s most popular author on world religions, made her remarks during a 12-day blitz for compassion in Vancouver, which wraps up Friday.
Given global demographic changes, it’s a vital question. “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today,” the political scientist Robert D. Putnam has written. “This is true from Sweden to the United States and from New Zealand to Ireland.”
In the United States, the question holds special significance for the simple reason that American society is highly religious and highly diverse and — on matters concerning faith — considerably more politically polarized than a quarter-century ago.
The United States prides itself on welcoming people of different faiths. The Bill of Rights begins with a guarantee of freedom of worship. In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to a Jewish congregation in which he expressed his wish that they “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” and declared that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg’s impassioned and courageous defense of the Cordoba House — the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” — became an important addition to a long and noble tradition of inclusion. (It’s a speech worth reading.)
But while there have been widespread efforts over the past generation to promote and celebrate ethnic and racial diversity — everything from “Sesame Street” to multicultural studies to work force sensitivity training — the one topic that has often been kept off the table is faith. Americans have grown more comfortable talking about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not faith. It’s too personal, too divisive, too explosive. How do you conduct a productive conversation among people whose cherished beliefs — exclusive God-given truths — cannot be reconciled?
That’s a process that a Chicago-based organization called the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has refined into something between an art and a science, demonstrating how to bring college students together across faith and belief lines so that they develop greater respect, comfort and appreciation for one another and their traditions.
An Interfaith Leadership Institute event in Washington, D.C., in 2011.Along the way, IFYC has systematized a process for cultivating interfaith leaders and a blueprint for organizing Better Together campaigns, campus-based interfaith engagements that produce reliably positive outcomes, according to students and faculty. Last year, the organization trained students who ran campaigns on 106 campuses. Over the next five years, IFYC plans to spread its message and work to 1,500 colleges.
“We can shape environments and programs to produce more of these leaders. We don’t have to wait for God to drop a Martin Luther King Jr. on us,” says IFYC’s founder Eboo Patel, who is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and author of the forthcoming book, “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America.”
It comes as no surprise that many Americans harbor unfavorable attitudes toward those who hold different beliefs, notably Muslims and Mormons, but also evangelical Christians, Catholics, Jews and, the most disdained group of all, atheists. Large majorities of Americans believe that Islam and Mormonism, for example, have little in common with their own faiths. However, most Americans say that they know little or nothing about Islam or Mormonism. Would their thinking change if they knew, for example, that the most important value in Islam is mercy and that Muslims hold a reverence for Jesus, or that, for Mormons, the most important value is “working to help the poor”?
Most likely — particularly if they got to know people who embodied those values. In their book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell draw on social science to show how strongly our relationships shape our attitudes about other groups. “We can show in a quite rigorous way that when you become friends with someone of a different faith, it not only makes you more open-minded to people of that faith, it makes you more open-minded about people of all other faiths. It makes you more tolerant generally,” says Putnam. “That’s the fundamental premise of the Interfaith Youth Core’s work.”
IFYC’s Better Together campaigns are based on these insights: the most reliable way to improve attitudes about religious groups is to intentionally foster meaningful relationships across lines and gain “appreciative knowledge” about other faith traditions. The worst thing society can do is to continue what it’s doing today: allowing attitudes to be shaped by the shrillest voices, the voices of intolerance, political expedience and xenophobia. “If we don’t talk openly about faith and bring people from different traditions together, we forfeit the conversation to people who are happy to build barriers,” notes Patel. Quoting the philosopher Michael Sandel, he added, “Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.”
What is the secret to facilitating exchanges that lead to meaningful relationships? “You need to begin by focusing on a value that is commonly shared — like mercy, compassion for the poor, care for the environment or service — something that invites people to bring the best of who they are and the best of what their tradition is about,” explains April Mendez, IFYC’s vice president for leadership. “You walk away from a conversation like that inspired and appreciative about the diversity around you.”
Related in Opinion
Op-Ed: I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian.Next, leaders reach out across the campus to bring students together to act on a widely shared value through service. In 2010, for example, students at the University of Illinois engaged thousands of volunteers and sent a million meals to Haitians after the earthquake. This year, students from Ohio University cleaned up a local waterway. At Augustana College, in Rock Island, Ill., they held a Thanksgiving fast-a-thon and raised money for a local homeless shelter. At Dominican University, in River Forest, Ill., they organized a “Speed Faithing” exchange. Elsewhere, students organized blood drives, interfaith dinners, campaigns against sexual violence and assistance for homeless youth — in each instance, reflecting on how their commitment to help others is informed by their beliefs or worldviews.
This is different from the way interfaith dialogues are typically structured. Here, the conversations are led by students, not religious scholars; they intentionally include agnostics and atheists; and they are not focused on religious teachings per se but rather students’ relationship to their faith or their philosophical beliefs.
All this is critical, explained Vatina McLaurin, an incoming junior at Augustana, who helped lead the fast-a-thon campaign and who was raised as a Christian but identifies as an agnostic or “seeker.” “When you’re asking students to engage in conversation about faith,” she said, “it’s important to remind them that they don’t have to speak for their whole religion. They’re just there to talk about their faith or beliefs in a personal way.”
Nor is the goal of an interfaith conversation to arrive at agreement. “Interfaith work isn’t about watering down our religion and coming to some consensus about things,” explains Aamir Hussain, a Muslim student at Georgetown University who helped students from Georgetown and Syracuse University, historic basketball rivals, mobilize a food drive. “It’s about building relationships so we can together serve others.”
Greg Damhorst, an evangelical Christian currently pursuing a combined medical degree and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, recalled the campaign he worked on to assist Haitians with food. “We had people from every political and religious tradition,” he explained. “Many have been at odds with one another. If you put them in a room with certain topics you could create the most abrasive argument. But we brought them together to help people in need and, through that process, people were inspired by one another — and they learned new things.” Damhorst learned about the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, and the importance of service in Islam and Jainism.
It’s not without conflict. Damhorst has gotten pushback from evangelical friends. “Some say that even collaborating with people from other faiths is a disservice — because it affirms the validity of their beliefs,” he said. “Others fear that if they come to the table for an interfaith dialogue, they’re going to be asked to hang up some aspect of their tradition — or maybe even start to question their faith.”
That’s not his experience. He says that his own faith has been strengthened by this work. “When faith is just a series of ideas in your head, one does find it offensive to have it disagreed with,” he says. “But when faith is lived out in action, it’s more impermeable than if it’s just a concept.”
Americans celebrate diversity. But one of the mistaken beliefs about diversity is that it leads to greater tolerance. Putnam’s research indicates that, unless people make a concerted effort to build bridges, diversity leads to greater social fragmentation — with lower rates of trust, altruism and cooperation. “What ethnic diversity does is cause everybody to hunker down and avoid connection,” he explained. “It’s not just the presence of diversity in your neighborhood. You’ve got to actually be doing things with other people in which you have a personal attachment. Diversity is hard, not easy.”
The question that obsesses the IFYC founder Eboo Patel today is how to make interfaith cooperation as much of a social norm as multiculturalism has become. As part of that process, IFYC is providing guidance to a select group of colleges to demonstrate what a college-wide model interfaith program could become.
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Read previous contributions to this series.
.One of them is Dominican University, which is changing its curriculum, redesigning student outcomes, engaging students and faculty, and aligning its academic calendar — all with interfaith cooperation in mind. Donna Carroll, the school’s president, envisions a day when any student who walks across the stage to receive a diploma from Dominican University will have gained a solid understanding of interfaith cooperation. “Because we are educating the next generation of arguably global leaders, it’s part of our responsibility to ensure that this is a component of the educational environment,” Carroll explained. “All you have to do is turn on the news and you can recognize that.”
Indeed, if you take a stroll along the Internet, cable TV, or talk radio, you’ll find no shortage of dire warnings from people who dread a clash of civilizations and often deride interfaith cooperation as naïve. In this vision, safety means maintaining a fortress mentality and keeping a firm divide between us and them. Another path to follow is the one espoused by George Washington, that all Americans “enjoy the good will” of others. To make that hope real, says Patel, people who care about tolerance need to cultivate specific leadership skills today: “We need more people to show how our religious differences fit within the overarching framework of pluralism that is part of the American tradition — this magnificent and glorious idea that people will stand up and fight for.”
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In the name of Allah, Christians can also appreciate Ramadan
By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
With the holy month of Ramadan beginning today, most of Canada's 600,000 Muslims are expected to direct more of their energy toward contemplating Allah.
Despite conventional thinking that Allah is the name of the exclusive god of Muslims, many say Allah can be appreciated by all monotheists, by all people who believe in one ultimate sacred reality.
That's the message Islamic scholar Bruce Lawrence delivered during a pre-Ramadan series of courses offered this month by Simon Fraser University through its Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Culture and the international Aga Khan University.
"I'm an Anglo-Mohammedan, a Christian who believes in the Koran," said Lawrence, an acclaimed Islamic scholar from Duke University in North Carolina who, in addition to advising governments about Muslim issues, was profiled in The New Yorker after translating the writings of Osama bin Laden.
During the annual 30 days of Ramadan, during daylight hours most healthy Muslims fast from food, fluids, sexual relations and other bodily enjoyments. The physical self-renunciation is meant to focus their minds on God, who in Arabic is known as Allah.
For decades, Lawrence, an Episcopalian (or Anglican), has gained insight from what the Koran says about Allah. Even though the holy book has difficult passages, Lawrence generally finds it "a very satisfying and calming book. I love its lyrical and bracing quality."
The author of Who is Allah? and many other titles said he regrets that some people misunderstand the concept of Allah, falsely assuming Muslims believe Allah is an essentially different god than the one revered by Jews and Christians. Lawrence's non-doctrinaire view of Muslim attitudes and theology is reinforced by SFU Islamic specialist Derryl MacLean, who says "the name, Allah, is simply the name attached to the god of all humanity, and not simply the Muslim god."
Indeed, even though Allah is the most common name the world's 1.2 billion Muslims use for God, some Muslims use different terms for the ultimate reality, said MacLean, author of the new book, Cosmopolitan-ism in Muslim Contexts. "Persian Muslims use the Farsi word 'Khuda' [also meaning God]," MacLean said, before adding, "And Arab Christians often use the word 'Allah' for their deity." To reinforce the Islamic teaching that Allah is the god of all people, one 17th-century Muslim mystic, Dara Shikoh, began one of his books with the phrase: "In the name of the One God who has no name. No matter what name you use, He will respond."
This broad-minded attitude appears to hold sway in many Metro Vancouver mosques, where non-Muslims are often welcomed to take part in services with some of the city's roughly 80,000 Muslims, who hail from all over the world, especially Iran, Pakistan, India and Africa.
At Al-Salaam mosque on Canada Way in Burnaby, for instance, spokesman Imaad Ali (who attended evangelical Christian Trinity Western University in Langley) urged Christians and others to join with his fellow Muslims in daily rituals and prayers.
For his part, Lawrence emphasized that another effective way for both non-Muslims and Muslims to gain access to Allah, the universal divine, is through reflecting on Islam's "99 names for God." The Islamic scholar especially values the first three of the 99 alternative names for Allah, since they refer to the importance of modelling God's compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
Asked why he describes him-self on his website as a "cosmopolitan advocate of Christian-Muslim synergy," Lawrence said most great religious leaders - including Buddha and Jesus, who was Jewish - learned from a variety of traditions. "Every-one who is deeply into religion," he said, "often draws on more than one source."
The 8 Most Important Interfaith Monuments in the World
Craig Considine Sociologist, Speaker, Writer
Posted: 02/03/2015 11:26 am EST Updated: 02/03/2015 11:59 am EST
The following short collection lists eight of the most important monuments in the world in terms of interfaith dialogue and interfaith relations. By the term "monument" I refer to a building or structure created to commemorate a person, event, or social bond which has significance in regards to improving relations between the Abrahamic faiths.
The eight monuments documented here stand on the Asian, African, European, and North American continents in countries such as Israel, Turkey, India, Egypt, and the US. The monuments shed light upon key figures throughout history, as well as important events which have shaped Judaism, Christianity, and Islam over the last 1,000 or so years. My focus here is on events surrounding Jews, Christians, and Muslims, however, that is not to overlook the equally important interfaith monuments pertaining to non-Abrahamic faiths around the world.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the most revered shrine in Christendom, stands in the walled Old City of Jerusalem. The Church, which was built on the site of the crucifixion, tomb, and resurrection of Jesus, has been protected by two Palestinian Muslim families - the Nuseibehs and Joudehs - for over 1,000 years.
The Holy Sepulchre has an uneasy state of affairs as it is managed by five different Christian denominations including Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox. On several occasions over the years, these Christian factions have fought each other over who controls the space within the church. The Nuseibeh and Joudeh families have helped to keep the peace between these rival groups. Let's hope that they continue to do so in the future.
Maimonides Statue in Old Jewish Quarter, Cordoba, Spain
In Tiberiadus Square in the Old Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, Spain stands a statue of Moses Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher who flourished as an intellectual leader under Muslim rule.
Between the years 711 and 1085, Muslim-ruled Spain sustained a harmonious society under the guiding principle of convívencía - which can literally be translated as "living with-ness," or "requiring tolerance." This policy ushered in a "Jewish Golden Age" in which Maimonides was its shining star.
Maimonides was a scholar of utmost distinction, producing key Jewish texts such as the "Mishneh Torah," a 14-volume text on Jewish law, and his most famous work, "The Guide for the Perplexed," which struck a balance between religious and secular knowledge. His scholarship was not only influenced by Plato and Greek philosophy, but also Al-Ghazali and Sufi thought.
The Maimonides statue represents tolerance and mutual admiration between Muslims and Jews, and also serves as a link between Western/Christian and Jewish thought. His life's work in Muslim Spain reminds us of the power in the great Jewish saying of "tikkun olam," "to heal a fractured world."
The Tri-Faith Center, Omaha, Nebraska
The Tri-Faith Initiative, an interfaith organization in Omaha, Nebraska, recently developed a plan to build the Tri-Faith Center. The concept, as KETV reports, is to "build a Jewish temple, Islamic center, and Episcopalian church all on one property and connected by walkways that meet at a tri-faith center meant to encourage education and understanding." The architects purposely built these structures next to each other in order to educate people on the importance of interfaith dialogue.
According to the Initiative's website, the Tri-Faith Center "will welcome people of all faiths and will become a model for peaceful co-existence that builds on America's promise of religious freedom and our desire for understanding."
While recent news suggests that the Initiative may become "Bi-Faith" - or only Christian and Jewish - there is still hope for the creation of the Tri-Faith Center, a project which shows that three faiths can learn "to live together in peace without watering down anyone's faith."
Shrine of Rumi, Konya, Turkey
This grandiose building, which functions as both a museum and shrine, is the resting place of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the 13th century mystic Sufi Muslim poet popularly referred to as Rumi.
Rumi's sublimely beautiful poetry often touched upon pluralism and love of humanity by focusing on how groups such as Jews, Christians, and Muslims had much in common. His life philosophy is reflected in the following lines:
Whoever you may be, come
Even though you may be
An infidel, a pagan, or a fire-worshipper, come
Our brotherhood is not one of despair
Even though you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, come.
The overarching theme in Rumi's poetry is his unending love not simply for Muslims, but for all humanity. In his poem "Love is the Master," he described himself as being "mastered totally by love." Another poem, "I am a child of love," states, "Love is my religion and my faith ... My God is love." Clearly Rumi did not limit his affection to those closest to him.
Each year on December 17th, pilgrims from around the world descend upon this shrine to celebrate the life of the great mystic. In doing so the pilgrims bridge the Muslim world and the West at this period of great mistrust and violence.
Bradford Reform Synagogue, Bradford, UK
The grand-looking Bradford Reform Synagogue is on an unassuming street, between the Yorkshire Tandoori, Al-Hijaab Islamic Clothing and the Jamia Shan-E-Islam Educational Centre. Built in 1880, the Synagogue has long been under threat of closure, but several Muslim organisations in the city recently raised a large sum of money to save the tiny Jewish community.
Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques, spearheaded the fundraising campaign. He now calls Rudi Leavor, the Synagogue's rabbi, as his "big brother." Karim adds, "[i]t makes me proud that we can protect our neighbors and at the same time preserve an important part of Bradford's cultural heritage."
The Muslim efforts to save the synagogue shatters the myth that Jews and Muslims are eternal enemies. Nothing could be more important than this act of kindness considering that Jewish-Muslim hostility has risen across the world over the last few years.
The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
The Hagia Sophia, a massive structure meaning "Holy Wisdom," is located in the heart of Istanbul, and has been a church or mosque since its creation by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537.
At the time of its creation, the church was dedicated to Logos, the Wisdom of God, or the second person of the Holy Trinity. The building, which was converted into a mosque after Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, inspired Muslim architects who later went on to design some of Istanbul's most marvelous mosques.
Hagia Sophia is no longer a place of worship, but rather an "interfaith museum" which displays art and relics from Christendom's and Islam's glorious histories. The building represents how these two great faiths are forever intertwined with one another.
The Turkish parliament recently introduced a bill that would change the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum, which it has been since 1935, to a mosque. Converting the Holy Wisdom from an interfaith monument into a mosque "could deepen the wedge between the [Turkish] government and its delicate relations with its Christian minority."
Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai, Egypt
One of the oldest Christian communities in the world, Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, Egypt is home to Prophet Muhammad's covenant in which he guarantees Christian monks protection and freedom of religion. The Monastery, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, is a symbol of tolerance and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
John Andrew Morrow, in his book "The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World," provides a detailed account of the origins and importance of the covenant. As Morrow notes in the book, which I reviewed here, Muhammad expected that Muslims would enter into a bond of spiritual solidarity with the non-Muslims in their midst.
Saint Catherine's was recently in the news because Ahmed Ragai Attiya, an Egyptian general, called for the demolition of the monastery's multiple churches, monks cells, garden, and other places of interest. Such an act would be a terrible betrayal of Prophet Muhammad's message of peace and goodwill to Christians worldwide.
The Ibidat Khana, Fatehpur Sikri, India
Akbar the Great, Mughal Emperor in the mid-to-late 16th century, built the Ibidat Khana, or "House of Worship," in the city of Fatehpur Sikri, India. The original purpose of the Khana was to serve Muslims as they engaged in discussions and debates over Islam.
However, as these events took shape, Akbar became frustrated with the petty debates within the structure. Unhappy that these Muslims discussed religious practice and God through a narrow Islamic spectrum, the Mughal Emperor turned the Khana into an edifice where people of all religions could gather to participate in interfaith dialogue. One particular historian called the building a place where "Wisdom and deeds would be tested ... Those who were founded on truth entered the hall of acceptance."
The Ibidat Khana became a symbol of Akbar the Great's legacy. Historian Muhammad Abdul Baki said that Akbar "would recognize no difference between [religions], his object being to unite all men in a common bond of peace."
Although the Ibidat Khana no longer exists above ground, a trip to the foundations of the Mughal Empire in Fatehpur Sikri can nevertheless elevate the spirit in praise of God.
Christians, Muslims Heed Interfaith Call To Fight ISIS With Muhammad’s Peaceful Message
“It is time for all faiths to come together and say in one voice: ‘Not in our name!’” Dr. John Andrew Morrow, one of the forces behind a new interfaith movement to stand in peaceful opposition to ISIS and extremist groups like it, tells MintPress.
By Catherine Shakdam | August 17, 2015
LONDON — A country in the throes of war, America has been battling an ever elusive enemy: radicalism. A force with many names and many masks, this threat appears to have compounded into the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, arguably the world’s fiercest and most immediate enemy.
Because of a self-professed affiliation with Islam, ISIS and other violent fundamentalist groups like it have left Muslims around the world to constantly defend themselves and justify their faith against the fury of fundamentalism. Often attacked and accused of harboring “genocidal” sentiments toward Christians and Jews, Muslims have suffered many humiliations because of the folly of a psychotic minority.
Yet one Islamic scholar has vowed not to allow his faith to be slandered or exploited to hateful ends. Dr. John Andrew Morrow, a Canadian-born cleric, researcher and author, is building a movement to oppose terror at its root and inspire an interfaith network strong enough to weather the storm of intolerance.
“Rather than argue theology with blood-thirsty savages, we thought instead to lead by example. In Islam we had a tradition that was cultivated for over a thousand years called futuwwa, or chivalry. Muslims used to compete with each other in nobility. As Imam Ali said: ‘Be a friend of the oppressed and an enemy of the oppressors,’” Morrow told MintPress News.
With America’s military superpower securing just a few victories against ISIS, Morrow and others sympathetic to his cause have decided to step in and offer a different approach to this war of faiths.
“ISIS is more than just a threat to world powers and world nations, ISIS is the very negation of civilization. It seeks to destroy to better subjugate. This group’s sole purpose has been to annihilate a region’s historical, religious, ethnic and social heritage to impose its dogma over the ruins of a people’s soul,” Rabbi Meir Hirsch from the Neturei Karta, a Jewish organization that denounces Zionism as antithetical to Judaism, told MintPress.
Tens of thousands of Yezidis fell under ISIS fire last year in Iraq, pinned by its militants in the most abject conditions. This centuries-old religious community, rooted in the ancient land of Mesopotamia, faces complete annihilation. Recalling the horror of ISIS’ brutal campaign against Iraq’s Yezidis, a report in the Huffington Post early this month reads:
“One year ago this week, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the Levant — otherwise known as ISIS — perpetrated a genocide against the Yazidi in Sinjar. Tens of thousands of men, women and children fled to Mount Sinjar, where they were trapped for days. Hundreds were massacred by ISIS, and dozens of lives were taken by starvation and dehydration. A U.N. report noted other gross human rights abuses, forced conversions and the abduction of women and girls.”
An estimated 500,000 Yezidis now risk death under the rule of ISIS’ self-proclaimed leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The Yezidis are not unique in being marked for death by ISIS. The militant organization targets Christians, Alawites, Shiite Muslims and Sufis, as well. Even Sunni Muslims have been persecuted, although ISIS claims itself from this creed.
The Islam of ISIS is rooted in Wahhabism, a harsh interpretation of the Scriptures which advocates for the annihilation of all dissenting voices.
President Barack Obama held a lecture at American University on Aug. 5, where he discussed alternatives to war and military intervention in general, aiming to instead achieve peace through diplomacy. And though Obama was alluding to Iran and the recently inked Iran nuclear agreement, Morrow, American poet and metaphysician Charles Upton, and Detroit-based Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Eastern Rite uniate churches, among others, also recognize the wisdom in not giving in to military impulses to bring about peace.
They choose to look toward mutual support and religious solidarity to oppose the creeping advances of radicalism, opting to defeat terror ideology with religious inclusion and tolerance rather than bombs and threats. While such interfaith efforts have mainly revolved around a Christian-Muslim collaboration, Morrow is hoping Jewish organizations and other religious denominations will also answer his calls.
Dr. John Morrow and the Covenant Foundation
In October 2013, Dr. John Andrew Morrow published “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad and the Christians of the World.” Meant as both a testament and a witness to Islam’s commitment to interfaith solidarity, Morrow’s book has resonated with both Muslims and Christians.
I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church.
For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.
~ Khalil Gibran
Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts
It’s easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.
But in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.
The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.
Part of this is simply demographic. Religious communities produce lots of babies and swell their ranks, while secular communities do not. The researcher Michael Blume looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every nonreligious population in history has experienced demographic decline.
Humans also are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, in a century that “has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.” The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.
This is already leading to religious violence. In November 2014, just to take one month, there were 664 jihadist attacks in 14 countries, killing a total of 5,042 people. Since 1984, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed by Islamist militias in Sudan.
Sacks emphasizes that it is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.
Rather, religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.
The pathological dualist can’t reconcile his humiliated place in the world with his own moral superiority. He embraces a politicized religion — restoring the caliphate — and seeks to destroy those outside his group by apocalyptic force. This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel.
That’s what we saw in Paris last week.
Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers. That’s what Sacks sets out to do.
The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.
The Bible is filled with sibling rivalries: Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. The Bible crystallizes the truth that people sometimes find themselves competing for parental love and even competing for God’s love.
Read simplistically, the Bible’s sibling rivalries seem merely like stories of victory or defeat — Isaac over Ishmael. But all three Abrahamic religions have sophisticated, multilayered interpretive traditions that undercut fundamentalist readings.
Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.
Justice demands respect of the other. It plays on the collective memory of people who are in covenantal communities: Your people, too, were once vulnerable strangers in a strange land.
The command is not just to be empathetic toward strangers, which is fragile. The command is to pursue sanctification, which involves struggle and sometimes conquering your selfish instincts. Moreover, God frequently appears where he is least expected — in the voice of the stranger — reminding us that God transcends the particulars of our attachments.
The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way. Sacks’s great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.
It may seem strange that in this century of technology, peace will be found within these ancient texts. But as Sacks points out, Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army — just a different example of how to believe, think and live.
Pope Francis Ends African Trip With Visit to a Mosque
On his maiden visit to Africa, Pope Francis went where most other dignitaries would not — and he went in ways that won him applause from ordinary people.
In Nairobi, he traveled from the airport in a simple Honda — then visited a slum long accustomed to the ribbon of raw sewage.
In Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, he crossed a no-man’s land in a war zone, taking off his shoes at the threshold of a mosque, as is Muslim custom, and then speaking of reconciliation across faiths. “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said, a jarring idea in a country where some Muslims and Christians have slaughtered each other for the last two years.
The pope’s six-day swing to Africa, which ended on Monday, was loaded with potent, stirring symbols like this. On a continent brimming with young people, they were meant to appeal to youth, including the disaffected.
In Uganda, he put aside his prepared remarks to champion the courage of a former child soldier. In Kenya, he expressed sympathy for young men and women who lack education and work. And he gave a nod to the one subject that resonates widely with African youth — but did so delicately, so as not to offend the leaders who were hosting him.
“Corruption is something that eats inside; it’s like sugar, it’s sweet, we like it, it’s easy,” Francis said and then, gently, he urged: “Please. Don’t develop that taste.”
What he did not say was equally potent. The Roman Catholic Church in Africa is powerful — and increasingly conservative. And so Francis was silent about the repression of gay men and lesbians in Uganda, despite the hopes of human rights advocates.
He said nothing about child marriage — which is exceptionally high in sub-Saharan Africa — nor about why so many African women continue to die in childbirth. The church officially opposes contraception, and the pope continues to speak of the need to protect the unborn.
On the flight back to Rome, the pontiff tried to deflect a question on whether the church should change its position on the use of condoms to limit the spread of H.I.V.
“I don’t like getting into questions or reflections that are so technical when people die because they don’t have water or food or housing,” he said, according to an Associated Press report.
Francis saved his riskiest venture for last. He spoke in a mosque in a neighborhood of Bangui, called PK-5, where the city’s Muslim minority has been isolated for months. Rival militias stand guard at the gates of the neighborhood, controlling who gets in and out, and the road that links it with the rest of the city is usually eerily deserted.
On Monday, it was an altogether different scene. The barricades broke — at least for a while.
Diane Corner, United Nations deputy special representative, posted on Twitter: “Remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? That’s what border of PK5 looks like. Extraordinary scenes for last 3 hours.”
More than two years of sectarian strife has displaced more than 400,000 people in the Central African Republic, the United Nations estimates. The mosque had been freshly painted for Francis’ visit. The Vatican flag was hoisted in the yard out front. Inside, after speaking with Muslim clerics, Francis appealed for Christian-Muslim unity, as he had throughout his Africa tour.
“Together,” he said, “we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.”
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